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BUNDLES OF JOY
“Erica should be here,” says Carlos (left, holding Tracy, and, inset, with Erica in 2010). “She would love every single moment of this.”
For a few hours, in the maternity ward of a Phoenix hospital on Jan. 15, Carlos and Erica Morales’s long-held dream had come true. After years of struggling to conceive, Erica, 36, had delivered four healthy newborns. Overcome with joy, Carlos poured his heart out to his wife, not yet awake from the anesthesia she had been given for her C-section. “It was the best day of my life,” Carlos says. “Nothing in my life had ever made me this happy.”
Two months later, life looks nothing like what Carlos and Erica had imagined. Just eight hours after giving birth, before she could speak a word to her husband or see or hold her babies, Erica went into hypovolemic shock, an emergency condition involving massive blood loss. Doctors’ efforts to revive her failed; Erica died at 1:20 a.m. on Jan. 16. With that sudden, overwhelming loss, Carlos had to rewrite the script he and Erica had lovingly fashioned for their lives as parents together – four babies splashing in the bath, family Bible readings, daily trips to the neighborhood playground behind their house. Now, even as he mourns the loss of the woman he calls “the love of my life,” he has vowed to be both father and mother to their children. “I thought my world died when Erica did,” says Carlos, 29, a soft-spoken warehouse supervisor who has been on leave from his job. “But every second I am with my babies I know she is still with me. I not only see Erica in each of them, I feel her. I feel her soul and her presence. These babies don’t know yet what blessings they have given me. They have given me four reasons to live.”
What the four – Carlos Jr., identical twins Erica and Paisley, and Tracy – haven’t given their dad is a moment’s rest since the last two came home from the hospital March 11. A day later, Carlos is a blur of motion. Sitting on the couch, with a baseball game on television, he rocks Paisley to sleep in one arm while giving a bottle to Carlos Jr. with the other. A few minutes later he passes Paisley to a family friend and dashes to the kitchen, carrying Carlos Jr., to get formula from the refrigerator. In the background Tracy and Erica are crying in their bassinets. “I can only see as far as the next feeding and the next diaper change,” Carlos says. “I take it minute by minute, or it’s too overwhelming.”
But the single dad is not alone. He’s surrounded by a tight-knit circle of family and friends eager to help. At the center is Sondra Bridges, 56, Erica’s mother. When Erica learned she was pregnant with quadruplets, she asked Bridges to move in. Now Bridges, who has been living at the couple’s home since December, is on 24-hour baby duty, waking every three hours along with Carlos. Together the two are keeping Erica’s memory alive. “I tell [the babies] stories of their mother,” Bridges says, “and how they wanted them for so long.”
For Carlos and Erica, who met at salsa night at a Scottsdale, Ariz., nightclub in 2006, a family was always the dream. Married in Las Vegas in 2007, they started trying for a baby two years later. It didn’t work, and after IVF, Erica suffered a devastating miscarriage. When they got the news that she was pregnant again, this time with quads, “we couldn’t believe it,” Carlos says. “Not one, two, three, but four. We didn’t think about how expensive it was going to be, the space issues, child care. We were just so happy.” Erica, a real estate agent, was determined to do everything right. She kept detailed lists on her iPad, from what she ate to goals for the babies’ future: college, good jobs, church and learning both English and Spanish.
They had chosen all but one of the babies’ names when Erica went into the hospital at 31 weeks pregnant and her doctor determined it was time to deliver them. “We can decide after she’s born,” Carlos recalls Erica telling him. Hours later – after a team of doctors and nurses swarmed Erica’s room with a crash cart, after Carlos paced the hall frantically once the Code Blue was called, after he found out the tragic news – Carlos sat by his newborns in the pediatric intensive-care unit. A nurse asked him for their names. He told her the three they’d chosen: Carlos Jr., Paisley, Tracy. He paused and then named the fourth himself: Erica.
The tragic story of the quads’ birth generated international headlines and an outpouring of support. Erica’s childhood friend Nicole Todman created a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/kbkpag) that has raised in excess of $360,000 from more than 10,000 strangers. “To think that so many people are giving me whatever they can afford,” Carlos says. “I’m so grateful.” All of this helps Carlos stay strong. As he eases back into work this week, he celebrates signs of progress: Three babies now weigh 5 lbs. each, and one weighs 6; he is a master diaper changer; he knows if a cry is for a bottle or a cuddle. Holding Paisley, he looks out at the playground and thinks about something he finally can see again: the future. “They will get on that school bus and play on that playground. They will be happy, healthy and loved. I will do everything in my power to make that happen.”